Cherries and I have not always been on amicable terms. In fact, there was a time when I stayed far far away from desserts that incorporated cherries, ESPECIALLY those that were topped with those frighteningly bright and plastic-looking preserved cherries (yes, I’m talking to you maraschinos!). I feel that this was a result of overexposure to sickeningly sweet “cherry” flavored stuff during my childhood: children’s cold and flu medicines, candy (especially Jolly Ranchers), Squeez-Its, and fruit snacks.
But thankfully, there came a day when the last artificially “cherry-flavored” item I ate was at least 10 years prior, and I had the pleasure of enjoying REAL cherries: unpreserved, unjarred, and ultimately DELICIOUS. This summer, I’ve been anxiously
staking out the produce section waiting for the arrival of these luscious garnet orbs because there are just SO many baking recipes I want to try: clafoutis, pies, cakes, quickbreads, brownies, the list really goes on and on.
And I’m not really sure how this recipe won out over PIE (you KNOW how I feel about buttery flaky crusts), perhaps because it was just SO original. I’ve had upside-down cake, of the more traditional pineapple variety, and I’ve had corn muffins, cornmeal pancakes, and cornmeal cookies before… but an upside-down cake that incorporates cherries AND balsamic vinegar into the caramel topping and a hint of cornmeal into the cake?! It was either going to be awesome. Or weird. I HAD to know!
Well… it was really, truly… awesome. After hand pitting 3 cups of cherries, they were thrown into a simmering mixture of butter, brown sugar, and just a touch of balsamic vinegar to add an extra dimension to the sweet caramel. The cake is light and fluffy with just enough cornmeal (1/6 of the dry ingredients) to crackle between your teeth a little in each bite, a perfect contrast with the rich and sweet fruit topping. My only criticism of this recipe is that the caramel and cooking process can mask the intrinsic charm and individual flavor of the cherry, so that the focus of the cake then becomes the union of the fruit topping and sweet cake, rather than the cherry itself. Which is fine because if you really want to enjoy the pure cherry flavor, just pop them directly into your mouth! But if you want to try a new cake.. this one really IS worth turning on the stove and oven for an hour on a hot summer day in Boston!